Social Justice, Podcast, Arts & Culture

Episode 118: Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy

April 27, 2021
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Blackfoot and Sámi writer, actor, producer and director, Elle–Máijá Tailfeathers joins host Am Johal on this episode of Below the Radar to talk about her latest film Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy. Together they discussed how Tailfeathers created the feature documentary film, which takes place in her community of Kainai First Nation in Southern Alberta, and look at the impacts of the drug-poisoning epidemic over a period of four years in that community.

Elle–Máijá shares her own process of narrative sovereignty as an Indigenous filmmaker, a process rooted in conversation, deep listening, accountability and that is also respectful of community protocols. She also talks about how she implemented the Blackfoot concept of Kímmapiiyipitssini, working from a place of empathy, love and understanding, to her practice and how her previous works influenced this film. 

Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy

Elle–Máijá Tailfeathers’ film witnesses radical and profound change in her community. Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy is an intimate portrait of survival, love and the collective work of healing in the Kainai First Nation in Southern Alberta, a Blackfoot community facing the impacts of substance use and a drug-poisoning epidemic.

Community members active in addiction and recovery, first responders and medical professionals implement harm reduction to save lives. This work is contextualized within the historical and contemporary impacts of settler colonialism; Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy draws a connecting line between the effects of colonial violence on Blackfoot land and people and the ongoing substance-use crisis.

Held in love and hope for the future, Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy asks the audience to be a part of this remarkable change with the community.

About Our Guest

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers is a writer, director, producer and actor. She is a member of the Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe, Blackfoot Confederacy) as well as Sámi from Norway.

She was named the 2018 Sundance Film Institute’s Merata Mita Film Fellow and is an alumnus of the Berlinale Talent Lab and the Hot Docs Accelerator Lab. Her short documentary Bihttoš was selected as one of TIFF’s Top Ten Canadian shorts and also won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Short at the Seattle International Film Festival. She acted in and co-wrote and co-directed (with Kathleen Hepburn) the narrative feature The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, which premiered at the Berlinale in 2019 and received the Toronto Film Critics Association and Vancouver Film Critics Circle awards for best Canadian film. It was also nominated for six Canadian Screen Awards, and Tailfeathers and Hepburn won the CSAs for best direction and best original screenplay. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open was picked up for distribution by Ava DuVernay’s company, ARRAY, and is available to stream on Netflix in the United States.

Cite This Episode

Chicago Style

Johal, Am. “Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy.” Below the Radar, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Podcast audio, April 27, 2021.


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